Memorial Day Reflections From Baghdad

Posted by Nicole Thompson
May 30, 2009
U.S. Army Troops of 3rd Infantry Division Wait To Deploy to Iraq

About the Author: Nicole Thompson serves as a Press Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq.

A colleague in Washington asked me to write a Memorial Day post for DipNote. I understood his reasoning; I am, after all, a third generation American war veteran. My father was sent to Vietnam in 1970, and his father was drafted to be a cook aboard a U.S. Navy battleship in 1943. As a member of the U.S. Army, I touched down in the Middle East two days before combat began in 2003, and rolled into central Iraq a month later. This year I voluntarily returned to Baghdad, this time out of uniform, with a diplomatic passport in hand.

I thought I’d write about the importance of service to country and the gallant sacrifice of those who defend our freedom. Instead, I opt to tell another tale — the story of my first Rest and Recuperation (R&R) break from Iraq. Through a series of blunders, I managed to miss the flight specifically designated to lift U.S. Embassy employees out of Iraq and into surrounding countries for departure and dispatch to all parts of the globe. I wound up stuck at a hot, dusty airport with little prospect of getting out of the country for at least 48 hours.

After much sad-eyed pleading, I was squeezed onto a non-embassy flight. I was ushered to a seat as over 250 battle-hardened soldiers, tossing their grimy gear and massive back packs to the ground, began to fill the small airport’s waiting area. Their talk varied wildly; spanning excitement to see spouses, progress of a pit bull puppy’s growth, to plans for college enrollment, pending divorce and ultimate fighting championships. The men themselves were as varied as their talk. A lanky young Asian American lieutenant, a hawk-eyed Latino sergeant keeping close watch of a group of rosy-cheeked privates, and a bellowing major sporting a cap of red crew-cut hair all surrounded me. Each of the men was so different, but somehow, they were one. These men, I later learned, were members of the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division, 2nd Brigade. They had served over 14 months in Baghdad. On the Monday we observed Memorial Day in 2009, they were finally going home.

I cannot describe the honor of being among these men. Inside this cadre of warriors, I was the lone civilian and the only woman. One small diplomat dressed in a concert t-shirt and colorful head wrap, filled with respect and admiration. Once we were all crammed aboard the giant aircraft that would ferry me to vacation, and the soldiers to their homes and families, a couple of them took a moment to entertain my questions about their mission and experiences in Iraq. I dared not ask how many of their brothers had fallen during the long tour.

Unbeknownst to them, these men provided a memory that will last my lifetime. Those few hours among their ranks were a great privilege. Sometimes it’s so easy to become entrenched and consumed by the day-to-day meetings and receptions and memos that accompany diplomacy in a war zone. To the battle-hardened men and women of the armed forces, I’d like to pause for a moment to say, thank you.



United States
May 30, 2009

Jocrom in U.S.A. writes:

the battle between good and evil is always present, spiritually and physically. good battles have to be fought to combat evil and lives will always be lost even from the beginning of time it has been that way. the reason i think the physical battles in the middle east have been long and hard is because it has a much bigger spiritual component than other battles. religion and traditions have always been big oppressors and killers of mankind. those people in the middle east are deep seated in traditions and religion. they are a huge threat to humanity and i applaud any one who is voluntarily willing to help fight this battle but im also sad that the innocent are always the victims.

Lee S.
California, USA
May 30, 2009

Lee S. in California writes:

Inspiring . Words are inadequate to express my admiration for these soldiers. I was in Vietnam at the time of the TET offensive but we had to be there because of the draft. These guys are volunteers.

Florida, USA
May 30, 2009

Susan in Florida writes:

Thank you for this wonderful and touching posting. I would also like to say thank you to all our troops. Your sacrifices are appreciated. I second Lee S.'s comment. You are inspiring and words are inadequate to express our gratitude. Again, thank you and Godspeed.

Virginia, USA
May 31, 2009

Donald in Virginia writes:


I'm going to step back in time as well, remembering 2004 when arriving in Iraq and what the experience taught me. The temperatures were extremely hot, windy, sand storms appeared from nowhere. Everything was hussle and bussle just like at a busy shopping mall. The very tents we stayed in were shaken by the sand storms. In the background you heard the music of war. Flat sand with no trees exist. Motar Rounds firing, guns going off, no telling how many rounds being fired, just constant incoming and outgoing shells. As we got our gear and went to the tents for briefing, you had that feeling of Honor and duty surrounded the tent. I had been jetlegged but managed to get a few hours rest. We were instructed to drink water I mean lots of water, so at 3 am in the morning, you spend some time waking up and getting to the port-o-potty with a flashlight. That very night I just couldn't get back to sleep so I stayed up just to have a feel to what was happening. A few hours later it felt like an earthquake emerged, the ground shook, everyone I was with just started looking around to see what happened? Then we found out a car bombing happened just outside the Gate where 37 Iraqi kids were killed by an Iraqi suicide bomber. About the time we got our nerves back and really getting an impression to whats truly happening, all of sudden another attack happens at the Victory Camp. We lost an American Soldier, the Iraqi's fired a motar round into his place of dwelling, the Soldier just returned from running, he had been in the shower when the attack occurred. The Motar round went right through the entire dwelling, setting it completely in a blaze of fire. It was heartbreaking and sad he did not make it. It was our fire Teams in Victory that responded to the call. It was late in the evening and you heard the sounds of bagpipes honoring our Soldiers who perished in war. My heart stopped for a minute when hearing those bag pipes knowing we lost another brave soldier who gave his life for other people to enjoy the Freedom of life! Bowing my head and saying a prayer "Rest In Peace"!!!

I have to give the 1St Calvary a Salute from one Veteran to all those who saved my life. Sometimes in life you just don't know what danger really is until you get into the situation. I was inventorying my Fire Equipment on a Sunday Morning back in 2004. I kept hearing more rounds being fired but really didn't pay much attention, since I was more focussed on doing my work at the time. Then all of sudden without warning, a group of soldiers came into my connex told me to leave ASAP! Get into your bunker NOW! I had did what the Soldiers told me to do, went to the bunker with everyone else. As the area was zoned off, preventing anyone from entering, a few minutes past then "KAAAAAABOOOM"!!! A bellowing cloud of smoke rises and the wind takes it away. I mean you could hear this sound echoed for miles and it was just right next to us. The United States Army Soldiers found an "Improvised Explosive Device" right behind the connex where we had been working that morning. Had they not came in and told us to get out when they did, I know I wouldn't be telling this story today. The men and women of the all branches of Service in Iraq and foreign Countries who were apart of the same thread, gutts, and glory all had Honor, Duty and Made Sacrafices!

"Those who have never been in War or had the chance to serve the United States overseas, be ever so humbled for those who have served and Thank "The YOUNG MEN and Women" who put their lives on the line for YOU!"

My Prayers will always be for the United States Military in Iraq and Afghanistan. I served with the BEST people on earth!


District Of Columbia, USA
May 31, 2009

Anna in Washington, DC writes:

@ Nicole -- your entry gave me goosebumps. We are fortunate to have women like you serving our country. God bless!

June 1, 2009

Edite in Canada writes:

One must take exception to the words, "battle-hardened" which the writer uses twice to describe America's military heros. All individuals who work on a daily basis and endure the worst of humanity's iniquities or problems, physical , emotional or mental, do not become "battle-hardened". If they did they would cease to be who God made them and their own humanity would suffer greatly. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, firefighters, military, airforce, naval, marines, policemen, Delta Forces, all special ops become more experienced in their line of work and become even more dedicated to their missions. "Battle-hardened" implies that individuals who experience terrible events no longer feel any emotions regarding these events. That is not the case.

Anyone who has worked with individuals who suffer from post traumatic distress syndrome , especially war veterans, suffer because they feel too much. Some can set aside emotions in order to do the skilled jobs for which they are trained. That does not mean that they do not feel and understand what is happening but instead use what is commonly referred to as "black humour" to get them through these events. They also are more prone to focus steadily on the task at hand.Some individuals, whose wiring is more fragile, may not be able to cope with the inhumanity they have to deal with.They often require compassionate counselling and help with their emotions. Veterans have been known to commit suicide, cause violence to erupt with their families simply because they have not been given the help they so desperately require.Post war care is as important or even more important than the instruction, training, skills and drills one goes through to become a seasoned person in their field of expertise.It is a real misnomer to characterize individuals as "battle-hardened" with regard to their humanity.

The crux of the real problem is that there are simply not enough of the above-mentioned trained individuals. Repeated deployments, instead of a series of rotational tours of duty with plenty of rest and relaxation would definitely help to solve the issues one sees in veterans. With deep and serious budget cuts in defense and other areas and a much smaller volunteer army, inadequate veteran care, it is no wonder that veterans are more prone to exhibiting major problems that affect themselves and their families and extended families.The use of drugs and alcohol to numb their pain is common. Those veterans who cannot talk about their experiences are not "battle-hardened". They are reluctant to do so because it raises too many emotions that are too unbearable to reveal.The ones who are still deployed, use selective memory to get through their tours of duty. The problems generally occur when they get home.What is asked of these individuals is above and beyond what is required of the average civilian. To be in their presence is to be in the presence of the truest heros. Their sacrifices, alive or dead, demand respect, memorialization and substantial assistance.Failure to do so in the minds of many, is tantamount to, inhumanity.

District Of Columbia, USA
June 1, 2009

Annie in Washington, DC writes:

Thank you so much for sharing your story -- what a great post in honor of memorial day!

Florida, USA
June 2, 2009

Roger in Florida writes:

This is a thought provoking post, and a reminder for all of us of the great sacrifices that others are making to keep our country free. A special thank you goes out to Nicole Thompson, and her family, for their dedicated service to this country for three generations. God Bless you all.


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